I know our players are tired of lifting weights and conditioning and they’re ready to start practicing. Also, in the same respect, our coaches are tired of being locked up in the film room studying video and we’re just looking forward to getting out and working with our new players. This freshman class we have coming in we are very excited about and of course continuing to work with the players that are already here.
I think when you look at this game, for us, besides not knowing exactly what Kentucky’s going to do, when we go out there we’re not really sure what we’re going to do. We’re going to have a new quarterback, no matter who becomes the starter, it’ll be there first game taking live snaps in front of 80,000 people and I’m not sure how they will react to that right now. We will work real hard to prepare him, but we’re not really sure. We’ll have a new tailback in the game, whether that’s Eric Shelton or Lionel Gates, they don’t have a lot of experience.
Offensively, the strengths that we need to play to, is we do have two tight ends coming back that I like, both they are both coming off on injury. Neither of them took any contact snaps in spring, so we still need to find out how they’ll do. Our offensive front is very young and they took a lot of criticism last year and I think they are very much improved. They have a lot more confidence than they did a year ago. Coach Mike Summers has done a great job with them and I’m actually looking forward to see how they have come along.
Defensively we will be replacing five starters that are all right now in an NFL camp, so we have some voids to fill there. I do like our defensive front. I think we have some guys that have some experience and that come off the ball well and play real hard. Our linebacking corp has speed and they’ll run to the ball and hit, but we are very thin there. Of any positions across the board, our depth at linebacker is something that we’ll have to bolster with some young freshmen probably. In the secondary, Josh Minkins is going to provide us with a lot of leadership. Brent Johnson will do a great job for us. Then we have to shore up the other two spots with some young guys. We had some guys do a good job in the spring, but they haven’t been the game a lot either. We are going to be very inexperienced, but I think our players are excited to get the season going. They were excited about how the ended up spring ball and we’re all looking forward to that first game.
Q: Regarding the rivalry with Kentucky being the season opener.
Petrino: I think basically you have two seasons. You have that first season, which is that rivalry game, and then you’ve got to, win or lose, put it behind you and move on to the rest of the season. I know that it has generated a lot of excitement throughout the state all summer long.
Q: What is Louisville’s strength?
Petrino: I think our receiving corp is a good strength for us. We’ve got six guys there that we feel real good about. A couple of them I think will have a great year for us. Our two tight ends will be a strength for us. We’re going to be able to run the ball, but I don’t know how well we will do early in the year, but we will continue to get better and will run the ball and take some pressure off the quarterback. Defensively it would be our defensive front and the linebacker first unit.
Q: About Michael Bush.
Petrino: Well we really don’t know yet because of how the rules are. Michael has been there lifting and learning all summer long. He goes out with the other players and throws the ball around, but aren’t sure exactly what he can grasp yet and how quickly he can learn our offense and also, learn the defense. He’s going to see things defensively that he did not see in high school. You just have to give him an opportunity. I know physically he has the ability to throw the football as well as anybody. He’s got great instincts in the pocket and he’s able to move around. He’s not going to standing on the sideline next to me, I recruited him to play.
Q: About Eric Shelton.
Petrino: I expect him to carry the ball a lot. I think Eric was a little surprised his couple weeks of spring and that it didn’t go as well as he anticipated it would. His instincts weren’t quite there yet. He got a lot better the last couple weeks. He started to make his cuts a little more precise and started to run with a little more power. We’re going to give him the ball a lot and hopefully he’ll wear some teams out by the fourth quarter and it’ll allow us to change the game a little bit.
The start of the football is an anticipating, get-your-blood-flowing type of thing and I am looking forward to the players reporting on the sixth and starting practice on the seventh. We've had a pretty good off-season and good spring practice and it looks like we're going into fall camp relatively healthy. I'm really looking forward to getting it underway.
Obviously the start of the season here is a little different than most places I've been since we're playing an archrival right out of the barrel. It brings more intensity and importance to the start of the season.
I really believe that we have a team that has some experience - especially on the offensive side of the ball. When you have a guy like Jared Lorenzen returning - who threw 24 touchdown passes and only five interceptions last year in the Southeastern Conference - that's a big-time quarterback. Derek Abney is a great target for him to throw to. We all know what he did on the return end last year with six touchdowns and being an All-American return man, but we want to make him a bigger factor in the offense. We want to get him down the field and get the ball in his hands because he's a guy that can make big plays.
Our offensive line is pretty solid. We have Antonio Hall, who was a first-team All-SEC player a year ago, leading that group. Defensively, we only have two seniors. Jeremy Caudill is an outstanding player and is a guy who I think will give us a lot of leadership in that defensive line. (Vincent) "Sweet Pea" Burns is another guy that's going to give us some pressure on the quarterback. He can run well and has great quickness. Leonard Burress is our only other senior on the defensive side of the ball. He'll start at corner and is an outstanding player. We're inexperienced over there - we lost seven starters on defense - but I believe we're going to grow into a very solid unit. I was pleased with the progress we made this spring with the defensive unit.
Then we come to the kicking side of it. I think one of the big reasons Kentucky was able to win seven games last year was because of the field-position battle that they were able to win in the kicking game. We obviously lost a major part of that in (Glenn) Pakulak, our outstanding punter from a year ago, but the other side of it, Derek Abney, is back on the return game. I wouldn't expect that we'd see as many balls punted or kicked his way this year based on what he did a year ago. But I think that part of it will be solid. Probably our biggest concern going into fall camp is the punting. I think our kicking with (Taylor) Begley is in outstanding shape. He was our kicker a year ago and I think that part is solid.
Q: On playing Louisville as the season opener.
Brooks: I think when you play your rival, particularly when it's an in-state rival, you're playing for the rest of the year. Because whoever wins the game has to live with that school in that state the rest of the year. And when you lose it, it's not a lot of fun. So it's something that takes on a life of its own. It's a much larger game than any other game you play when you're talking about living 365 days with the people you see every day - Louisville fans or Kentucky fans - and someone's going to have an edge. And I'd prefer it to be me.
Q: On using Shane Boyd.
Brooks: I can't afford to have Shane Boyd on the sideline holding a clipboard. He's one of our best athletes. He's not going to be in there the whole time when Jared's in there but he'll be in there some of the time every game.